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Baptist Community of Tajikistan: 90 Years of Hopes and Dreams

According to various data, baptism in Tajikistan is practised by 0.005 to 0.02 per cent of residents. Representatives of this Christian movement have been the integral part of the spiritual life of the country for 90 years already.

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Fined for calendars

During the recent reregistration of 2009, as required by the authorities, every Baptist church was registered at the place of its location as a separate legal entity. However, the Dushanbe-based church remains the coordinating spiritual centre of baptism in Tajikistan.

However, in February 2019, the fine in the amount of 4,000 somoni (423 dollars) and the destruction of 5 thousand calendars seized from this organisation at the Dushanbe airport in December 2018 by the customs service of Tajikistan broke the quiet life of the Baptist community of Tajikistan.

According to Rakhmonali Rakhimzoda, head of the Office of control over customs violations, examination held by the ministry of culture detected signs of the propaganda of a different religion in calendars.

According to religious scholar Rustam Azizi, there’s only one restriction: Tajikistan bans religious activity of radical, extremist and terrorist organisations, whose exhaustive list is determined by the Supreme Court.

The official registration of the Baptist church of Tajikistan entitles it to carry out activities, including distribution of calendars and other printed matter containing lines from the Holy Scripture. In all countries representatives of all official religions preach and distribute their printed matter containing lines from Holy books in order to attract everyone to their church.
Editor’s note: According to annual report of United States Commision on Internationa Religious Freedom, Tajikistan merits designation as a “country of particular concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA): 

“As is the case in many other states of the former Soviet Union, the Tajik government is deeply suspicious of Christian minority groups, especially those engaged in proselytism. While persecution is usually confined to raids, fines, and temporary detention, Christians are not exempt from longer terms of imprisonment”.

According to international Open Doors, which serves persecuted Christian worldwide, Tajikistan along with other three Central Asian countries, has been listed as the country “where it is most dangerous to follow Jesus.”  Tajikistan takes 29th spot in this ranking.

The second degree – ‘high level of persecution’ – of the three, according to authors of this research, is caused by ‘dictatorial paranoia’ in all four Central Asian states: Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

See also: Christian Minorities in Kazakhstan: As Quiet As the Grave

Grandmother’s hobby

Today, the Church of Evangelical Baptists ‘House of Worship for all the people’ in Dushanbe is regularly visited by nearly 500 church members at different periods. This is the most numerous community in Tajikistan.

Maksim, Mirali, Kamil, 1999. Photo from personal archives

The current head (senior deacon) of the church, Kamil Abdulloev, and his deputy, Maksim Davlyatov, were brought to this religion by their classmate. A Vakhdat-based Mirali decided to show the Baptist church of Vakhdat, which his grandmother used to attend, to his friends. Just to demonstrate the grandmother’s hobby.

However, this hobby turned into something serious. Maksim served in the military and then went back to the church. Kamil went to study to the seminary and upon return served in Baptist churches in former Soviet countries and when he gained experience, he got back to the motherland.

Maksim Davlyatov:

Maksim Davlyatov. Photo from personal archives

— The superiority of the word of God – the Old and New Testament Canons – are the main fundamental of the faith. Baptists have no legends, stories, prayer books or other written documents that would be equal to the word of God or used on a par with it.

Besides, Baptists don’t have other intermediaries (saints or holy men) between God and a man but Christ.

Baptists make a special emphasis on the free choice of a believer and equality of all members of the local church. Moreover, pastors elected at the general meeting (responsible for the spiritual life of the Baptist community – author’s note) and sextons (responsible primarily for logistics) voluntarily agree to serve all members of the community, which implies fewer rights and more responsibilities.

A Sunday church service. Photo courtesy of the Baptist community of Dushanbe

Kamil Abdulloev: 

— The purpose of a Baptist is spiritual self-improvement and following Christ. Baptists are not concerned about politics, race for power, positions, spheres of influence, etc. We are law-abiding citizens of the state who live a normal life. So, Baptists don’t participate in political struggle or turf wars even in countries with the numerous communities.

Kamil Abdulloev. Photo from personal archives

The key event for all of us in 2019 is going to be the celebration of the 90th anniversary of the Baptist community of Tajikistan. My brothers and I hope that the scheduled festive events will involve not only former members of the community living in different parts of the world, and guests from other Baptist communities of Central Asia, Russia, Europe and America, but also representatives of the government, state authorities and the muftiate of the Republic of Tajikistan, as well as representatives of all official registered religious organisations of the country.

Our church solely exists on donations from community members. However, despite our limited financial resources, the Baptist community has long been looking after the care home for children with disabilities in Chorbog by providing volunteer assistance, including buying diapers, necessary things, gifts, etc. to children with special needs.  Besides, the church is constantly looking after its frail elderly parishioners, who find themselves in difficult situation, are deprived of livelihood or who become disabled.

Although the representatives of Baptists are willing to tell about their religion and charity, they try to avoid many questions. For example, secret bans related to religious activity of the community, Bible distribution and free sermons among wayward youth and dysfunctional families, etc. These issues become a sort of taboo, while the level of self-censorship among representatives of religious minorities increases day by day.

This publication was produced under IWPR project «Forging links and raising voices to combat radicalization in Central Asia»

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